"Wholy Holy" (Marvin Gaye)

Columbia Memorial Hospital faced the Catskills in the distance and stood just a half mile from the first living room I remember. The apartment possessed only two bedrooms, already too small for my father, mother, two older sisters, and newborn me. In a couple years, when my dad got a better job, we’d move.

If child-bearing wasn’t what it was (and remains), I imagine my mom might have walked me home that week. But childbirth, rightly called labor, exhausts thoroughly. And with three kids all under five years of age and with a husband often working, parenthood never stopped exhausting my mother.

April 10th of 1971 brought unseasonably wintry weather, a pointed, probing wind across the river and our city of the same name. And the alley off of Worth Avenue in downtown Hudson, New York included a steep hill up.

My mom didn’t walk me home.
1971, historically speaking, isn’t notorious or notable for things like military or terrorist attacks, political assassinations, or the ending of wars. Historically significant events happened – the voting age decreased to 18 years old here in the U.S., NASDAQ was born, as was Disney World in Florida. But 1971, for many anyway, is most notable for the music that sprung up that year. In many ways, 1971 was the year of music, groundbreaking, landmark, lasting music that we still listen to some 50 years later.

Timeless music serenaded the year of my birth. And for me music "like a river flows surely to the sea."
In the family I grew up in, another universal reality existed in a pivotal way. Religion, spirituality, God-talk defined my childhood days as well.
The story of my life -- to tell it, Spirit and Music must come together and help me and my pen.

(If this sounds like some prayerful invocation, it’s not intended but meaningful nonetheless.)

Wholy Holy by Marvin Gaye began serenading world-weary souls in early 1971. For certain, it is a prayer in song and verse, one still sung

Wholy Holy… we should believe in one another, believe in Jesus.
Wholy Holy… we can conquer hate forever…
We’ll holler, “love, sweet love, love, love across the nation.

My parents only listened to the radio, and Wholy Holy wasn’t released as a radio single. But in 1971, 30% of Hudsonians were Black, a percentage that only increased in the town’s center where we lived. And the album What’s Going On on which Wholy Holy appeared was a mega-seller Black or White.

I’d like to think the beautiful, prayerful song wafted in the air around my neighborhood like a whistle, finding my newborn ears and mind somehow.

I’d like to think that summer, from a car’s 8-track player, the song played and I heard it as my mom walked me in a carriage along Warren Street. I’d like to think from a screened window, a vinyl record played through speakers nice and loud and the song’s sense resonated deep within me. I’d like to think this was true. But it's probably not.

Eventually, I certainly did hear it.
Wholy Holy is a gospel song. In her classic live recording Amazing Grace, a gospel record released a year later, Aretha Franklin would sing it as such. Lyrically, the song mentions God, Jesus, love, salvation, belief. All of these realities marked my upbringing. The song sets the tone for my life whether I heard it or not in 1971.

Proclaim love our salvation.

Love is our only salvation. So it is apt that I begin this story, a musical memorial to love and spirit, with Wholy Holy.

My mother loved to sing to us at bedtime. At bedside, she’d sing a lullaby, a hymn, a praise song, even a pop ballad. At Christmas time, she’d sing carols. Silent Night was her favorite.

Silent Night, Holy Night
All is calm, all is bright…
We sing.

Wholy Holy… come together
Wholy Holy… people, we all got to come together.
We sing.
Wholy Holy Nights and a mother’s lullabying voice.

A newborn’s experience of the divine. 

A moment of worship is the moment a song is first heard and internalized. Worship of the highest order. The worship I’d say God wants.

Love can conquer hate, everybody

Commence the string bridge as well as the silent, holy night.

Listen to the song’s end.

And wait for the next tune.


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